A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: KathleenMc

Wild Wild West

Yeeh Haah! Arizona

sunny 45 °C

Yee Ha!

Welcome to the Wild West! A bit surreal to leave New York, hung over from a weekend of bright lights, late nights, dining and dancing to arrive Sunday night in the mountains of Arizona, where the only sound are coyotes howling under a moonlit sky.
Something about the South really brings out the hick in me. Driving around in my Dad’s 2 ton diesel pickup truck eating fried chicken (don’t ask). All I need now is a gun rack for the back window. Or I could tuck one in my boot as out here in Arizona, its not only legal to carry, you can conceal it as well. Saw a guy across the campground yesterday packing a 45, as you do. Puts every chipmunk within 10 miles into hiding.

Went hiking up at one of the lakes our first day, hoping to see some bear, but only found bear tracks. Stopped by to visit a few of the locals of the Tonto Forest, Eddie and Otter. Real mountain men. Met Otter first, named not for the furry river critter, but rather because he ought to do this and ought to do that. This was made quite apparent by the state of his trailer and his concern for personal hygiene. A lovely man resembling kind old Uncle Jesse from the Dukes of Hazard. He had mountain stories I could not even try to repeat.

Afterwards we headed to meet his brother, Eddie, who seemed surprised to see us as he stumbled out of his trailer, coming off of what I later learned was a wild mushroom high (the yellow and orange ones will hit you like 6 pack so I’m told). Eddie makes all of his own clothes which you can see and smell. Note, it’s best to stand a few feet back when he’s wearing the full buck skin pants, shirt and moccasin ensemble. Eddie proudly brought out his handmade spears (Even the local natives would have been impressed), his bobcat skin quiver to hold his arrow (also home made of course), and my personal favourite his fox coat, lined in buck skin and complete with the fox head on the shoulder. Anyone standing in line behind Eddie at the Laundromat would be in for quite a fright. Then again I’m not so sure Eddie spends much time at the Laundromat.

Eddie was a wonderful host, inviting us to sit and have a beer with him and Wade, and Cyclops, Wade’s one eyed pet goat. We sat outside on chairs Eddie had salvaged from the trash and given new life, much safer than entering the trailer, which from what I could see spilling out of it, was likely highly contagious. Wade wasn't much of a talker, as the local gossip says he's usually sloshed by breakfast. He just sat and drank his beer, silently stroking Cyclops' horns. When Cyclops turned 180 degrees to look at me, I was happy to note that he didn’t have one large eye in the middle of his forehead, but rather one good eye. Either way, his stare scared the crap out of our little dog, KC, and she slunk under my chair, willing us to go home. But Eddie was still busy showing me his collection of artillery. My Dad thinks it was some kind of weird mountain mating ritual. Within the first 15 minutes, he brought me out 3 of his best rifles. Only after he had me handle each one did he mention, oh yeah, be careful as they are loaded. That would have been good to know! This of course turned the conversation to ammo, which Eddie, surprise surprise, proudly makes himself. He threw off the tarp covering the picnic table and exposed several boxes of homemade musket balls. At least that explained the gunpowder residue on Eddie’s nose. His most prized possession, and rightly so, was his bear claw necklace he wore proudly on his chest. It was adorned with Indian beads, turquoise stones and of course about 8 bear claws. I met the rest of the bear (minus the bits he ate), on the floor outside the trailer, its face stuck in a frozen snarl. An interesting day to say the leats, with the biggest surprise probably learning that there was once a Mrs Mountain Man Eddie. I have renewed hope that there really is someone for everyone!

I am loving everything about the mountains. Especially the thunderstorms, which brew daily due to the summer heat. They're unreal, with the sound ricocheting off the mountains, and reverberating through the valleys. Sadly, they bring very little rain, as this area only gets about 8 inches of rain in a year.

After a few weeks of enjoying the isolation, we headed down to the Valley to Mesa, just outside Phoenix, where my Dad and Judy live. Sweet Jesus its 113 (45C) here in the shade, before breakfast! After the sun sets around 8:30 it drops to 100 and goes as low as 92 overnight. They even wet the air out here (I'm not joking!). They have these misters for restaurant and backyard patios that send mist into the air around you. Only in America!. I’m trying desperately not to spontaneously combust.

My friend Brian arrived on Thursday and we drove out to see the Salado Indians’ ancient cliff dwellings from about 1000 AD and I drove this 25 mile winding dirt road called the Apache Trail. It winds through the Superstition mountains along the Salt River, rising over 2000 feet, with no guard rails. It was absolutely terrifying, as Brian described it, being he was on the passenger side and practically hanging over the abyss. A harrowing, but beautiful drive that’s pure joy for the adventurous spirit. We arrived in Tortilla Flat, population 6, (estimated teeth from the locals I encountered - about 12) at the end of the road (this would definitely qualify as a head-in-the-oven town for those of you who know my criteria), white knuckled but feeling very much ALIVE! The town was once a stage coach stop in the early 1900s and now boasts a shop selling tourist spoons and thimbles and local prickly pear cactus ice cream (which tasted suspiciously like strawberry).

Our first night in the valley was full of excitement - encountering a coyote in the back yard on the evening dinner round, eyeing up KC and finishing up with a dust storm blowing through just before bed time.
You could only step outside for brief moments, with the dust blinding your eyes and clogging your nose and mouth. The dust storm marked the beginning of what they call the Monsoon season where they get half the annual rain fall in just over a month. I know 4 inches is not much, but when it comes all at once, onto the hard desert ground, it floods like a tropical Monsoon. Seems Bri and I have chosen and interesting time to head out camping in the desert!


We hit the road on Sunday heading North to Sedona. Bri had been there a few times before and knew a great secluded place to camp on a ridge overlooking the valley, miles up an old dirt road.
On_the_Edge.jpgI came dangerously close to ending this and all future camping trips when I cam face to face with a skunk in the middle of the night. Thankfully I think I scared him just as much as he scared me so he didnt have time to collect himself and spray me before I darted back into the tent screaming for Brian.
Sedona is just as beautiful as everyone says it is, with the magestic Red Rocks lining the whole town. After 2 nights there hiking and taking in the views, we headed North to Utah. For 6 hours we saw little more than desert and dust, counting tumbleweeds along the way. I love the names of the little towns you pass through (some so quickly we missed them completely). Horsetheif Basin, Bumble Bee, Jackass Canyon. We stopped in one with a population of about 300 with and had lunch at an Amish kitchen (complete with a neon 'open' light in the window???). It was either that or travel another 100 miles to the BadAss BBQ.

We arrived in Moab Utah, gateway to Arches National Park. Get there if you haven't been. Surreal what water and wind can do to rock is you give it a little while. Like a few million years.
We camped in Jackass Canyon, on the banks of the Colorado river. The most spectacular bit was hiking along the mountain of rock at sunset to find Delicate Arch, teetering on the canyon edge.
No pictures can do this arch justice. Firstly, it is mammonth to how it looks in pictures, as the pics never have any people in it to give it perspective. Secondly, when the sun is setting sending a glow over the arch and into the canyon below, it's a captivating sight.
We relunctantly left the arch after an hour or so and hiked back and headed into Moab for some long overdue beers at the local brewery. Im a real fan of the local 'Dead Horse' brew. You can't 'beat' it! :-). Our stop at Canyonlands the next day was lovely as well but it does pale a bit in comparison to the Grand Canyon. After a few days in Utah we headed to Colorado. More ancient cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde and a day trip out to an old Gold mining town, Silverton, tucked in the mountains, about 12000 ft up. The cliff dwellings were quite impressive, making you climb 30+ foot ladders and crawl through 12 in tall tunnels to enter them.
Not a bad place to live if you dont mind sleeping on gravel in a a 5x5 room with a half dozen of your clan members. What's cooler, the cliff dwellings or my tat?
The wildlife here is amazing with wild horses, coyotes, mule deer and even mice, coming so close to you you could reach out an touch 'em.
The mice were oddly familar, having a few who came along for our road trip in our car. A bit startling and somewhat annoying when one kept asking 'are we there yet?'.

All and all a great trip. And wonderful to be out of mobile, internet and tv range for 2 weeks! Now it's back to the brutal Sydney winter where its about 70 degrees. Brrrrr.


Posted by KathleenMc 19:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Aloha & Mahalo!


30 °C

The torrential, persistent rain of Sydney this week is a bit difficult to return to after almost two weeks in the sun and warmth of the Northern Summer. Was it really only a few days ago that I was swimming alongside a pod of pilot whales that we happened upon while cruising to our dive site? What an amazing experience to join them in their exodus, if only for a while as these whales were on a mission, and impossible to keep up with.

We had to slip quietly off the back of the boat so as not to spook them. The first time we were unsuccessful and they elusively changed direction when they felt our presence. So we motored up in front of the pod and tried it gain. We slipped in and swam along side about half a dozen of them. Apparently they only see them every 4 to 6 weeks, so we were very lucky. I had not seen them before. From a distance they look like a big dolphin, but their heads are shaped more like white beluga whales. A highlight of the dive. The diving itself was wonderful as well, complete with sea turtles and giant manta rays.

We visited both Waikiki beach on Oahu and Kailua-Kona, home of the Ironman competitions, on the big Island. I preferred the smaller, more relaxed atmosphere of Kona, but Waikiki is great for enjoying Mai Tais at sunset at some of the old beautiful hotels built back in the early 1900s.
I met a guy on the shuttle to my hotel the first day who travels frequently from Sydney to Honolulu so we met for dinner and drinks and he showed me all the sights and gave me the history of Honolulu. I was introudced to my new fav drink, the Mai Tai. Perfect for watching the sunset.
Continuing my history lesson, I visited Pearl Harbour. They have built a monument right over the boat so you can see straight down into it the USS Arizona, as the water is very shallow. Oil still bubbles to the top, 65 years on, leaving a slick the length of the boat, a kind of message from below.

The island are quite small so its great to just drive along the coast road, exploring. We rented a red mustang convertible to make the most of the drive. So while vineyards were flooding and wharfs were sinking back in Sydney, we were were cruising with the top down, sun on our faces, wind in our hair. Lucky us! We visited Oahu’s North Shore, home to 40 foot waves in the winter time where people sometimes get dropped from helicopters to ride the waves! Much calmer this time of year, perfect for snorkeling.
On the big Island we drove around the entire island, ending up at the volcano. It’s the world’s most active volcano and its lava flow is continuous. Evidence of each year’s lava flows seep down the side of the mountain into the sea. At the top of the volcano you can stop for a quick facial and where steam shoots straight up from the cracks in the mountain.
Then you drive down Crater Rim drive where the 2003 flow slid straight down to the ocean, and covered a mile or so of the ocean road. You can drive down to the literal ‘end of the road’, park and walk out onto the lava.
You sit and wait for sunset when you can see the red smoke shooting into the sky where the lava is pouring into the sea 5 miles away.
Nearly 10 days in Hawaii and only visited 2 of 8 islands and saw about half of the things I wanted to see, so plan to be back in the near future. I already miss the fabulous Ahi (yellow fine tuna) that we ate for lunch and dinner nearly every night. Would have had it for breakfast too if they were serving it!
It’s an interesting mix to be surrounded by island culture and American culture all in one place. A bit of Walmart meets Waikiki. But somehow, it works…

Posted by KathleenMc 23:34 Archived in USA Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

Back In OZ - Kakadu Northern Territory Australia

November 2006

sunny 30 °C

I really enjoyed Kakadu park in the Northern Territory. On Fri I met my friend Peter in Darwin and we went for a few beers at a beach bar to watch the sunset over Fannie Bay. I know the Aussies will get a kick out of that name. Darwin is a very relaxed kind of town where most locals sport dreadlocks, facial hair or both. I was hoping for more for a Frontier kind of town, but its very built up. Sadly, a hurricane leveled Darwin in the 70s but the real tragedy is that most of it was rebuilt at that time so 70's architecture abounds in Darwin.

Then I joined a small tour of 6 others to head into Kakadu on Sat. We had a good group, save for the English couple, whose continuous belches and bum crack sightings and many other unmentionables gave the rest of us a few good laughs. There was a great German couple who were fun as well as efficient, thanks to Germany's obligatory 9m in the Army for their men, which is great camping training. I was teamed up with a cool girl from Quebec and together we managed to survive a horrendous but exciting monsoon like thunder/lightening/rain storm on our first night by desperately holding our tent together for 45 minutes. By the end there was so much water in the tent we had to check for barramundi and crocs before falling asleep. That was the first rain they had had all season, as the wet season is set to begin in a few weeks. I think they are off to a good season if that storm was any indication.

Barramundi Gorge
Kakadu 107.jpg

We covered over 1200 kms and experienced the usual, remote water falls and swimming holes, croc infested billabongs, emus with a death wish (we just clipped him as he darted into the road as we were going 80kms, he only lost a feather or two), wild brumbies, dingos howling at the full moon, wallabies, amazing bird life, Aboriginal rock art, and 40+ degree temps. As my Canadian friend said, there's warm, there's hot, and then there's Kakadu.
Kakadu 089.jpg

And lastly a night out in the Darwin pub filled with young backpackers and ridiculous games. The English guy did finally pull his weight by managing to stuff his gob with 30 marshmallows, thus winning us 2 extra points on the pub quiz and declaring us the winners. We did, however only win a $100 bar tab at the bar which I sadly did not get to partake in as had to catch my overnight flight.

It is great to be back in Australia full time after neary 2 and a half years away. I was there to see Jody get married in late October, with a beautiful reception at Aqua dining, just under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Posted by KathleenMc 00:30 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Las Vegas & Grand Canyon

38th Birthday - September 2006

sunny 30 °C

I joined Jody, Summer, Sarah and Chris in Vegas for a girls weekend and a suite at the Venetian. Friday we had my birthday dinner at Tao complete with amazing Asian Fushion and a brush with some Hollywood Stars who were filming the premiere of 'Scrubs' at the Venetian.

Saturday we had a bachelorette party for Jody in prep for her October wedding in Sept. The nightclubs in Vegas have really improved since I was last there 7 years ago, the cheese factor has been replaced with a bit of class. I'd love to write all about it, but 'What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas'.


After 2 late nights of partying my Dad & Judy picked me up during their cross country travels in their motorhome and we headed to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for 3 days of hiking. A refeshing change from the craziness of Vegas.


Posted by KathleenMc 00:22 Archived in USA Comments (0)

New Zealand & Sydney

April 2006

20 °C

In April I was off to Queensland for Sean & Michelle’s wedding. Stephen, David and I had to drive from Christchurch to Queenstown given our flight was canceled due to delays. They can not land in the dark in Queenstown, given the airport is wedged between two mountains. The 5 hour + ride was enjoyable as the scenery is beautiful, even under darkness and have Stephan and I a chance to catch up. By the time we arrived in Queenstown the gang was just finishing up dinner but had saved enough for us and the party began.

We had a sleep in to prepare for the wedding the next day, which was wonderful as predicted. It was held at a winery on Lake Hays, just outside QT. The setting was beautiful and the wine was wonderful. The venue was s lovely stone building and church nestled on the side of a mountain, overlooking the lake. We danced and drank into the late hours.

The next day we drove to Arrowtown a small town just outside QT, for some drinks at a little place called the Blue Door with a fireplace, comfy chairs and good NZ Pinot.

And on Monday it was off on a wine tour for even more wine tasting. The region is called Central Otago and is known for its Pinot Noirs. Afterwards we lunched in Wanaka, another charming town outside QT and popular during the ski season. We finished the day off with some pints at the famous Catrona Pub and its outdoor garden area.

The next day the rest of the guys headed back to Sydney and David, Dave and I headed up to the top of the mountain, where they paraglided back down. I took pictures of their flight and met them at the bottom.

On our final two days David and I biked out along the Shotover river, with views of the Remarkables peaks in the distance, and flew in a small place over Mt Aspiring. We had hoped to get to the glacier but the weather on the sound was working against us. It gave us great views of the spectacular cloud formation over the mountains, QT and Lake Hays and the winery where Sean and Michelle were married, and an appreciation of just how much those mountains of the West drive the weather conditions of everything to the East. Although it was too cloudy to get to the glaciers and the sound to the east, each day in QT was sunny and perfect!

We had a wonderful time in QT but I am looking forward to getting back to Sydney with David and seeing how his impressions of the city will change now that he’s not staying in a hostel or living on a backpackers budget.

Posted by KathleenMc 23:58 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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